The 20 minute practice that will help you get more done each week
Over the last nine months or so, I’ve started doing something at the end of each week that has totally changed how much I’m able to get done over the course of the next seven days, both at work and at home. A Weekly Review doesn’t take much more than 20 or 30 minutes to do — but it gives me focus and momentum going into the next week that I just wouldn’t have otherwise. Since it’s made such a difference for me, I thought I’d share my process in the hope that it’ll give you some ideas for how you can make this idea work for you!
The idea for the Weekly Review comes from David Allen’s Getting Things Done, an excellent resource used by millions around the world to keep themselves organized and productive. While I don’t follow it to the letter, over time I’ve incorporated different elements of the GTD system into my own, and it’s made a huge difference. By getting all of your to-do’s out of your head and into a reminder system that helps you actually figure out how to take action on the stuff you need to do, GTD helps to get rid of the stress that comes with having a million things that are pulling you in different directions and stay focused on the work that matters most to you.
Weekly reviews are a critical part of this process. If I don’t take time to step back regularly and assess everything that I have on my plate and how they stack up against my priorities, I inevitably find myself lost in the weeds and just doing the thing that is yelling at me the loudest — which is often not actually the most important thing to be spending my time on. The twenty minutes I spend at the end of each week helps me to avoid that so that I can refocus on my priorities and make sure I’m working on the stuff that really matters.
So, what does a Weekly Review look like? Like I said, I do this both at work (on Friday afternoons) and at home (on Saturday mornings). And while I know it looks like a lot at first glance, the truth is that once you’ve done it a couple of times and figured out a system that works for you, it really doesn’t take much time at all — it’s just maintenance. Besides, the amount of time and stress it saves during the week makes it more than worth it.
Here’s what works for me, followed by a couple of resources that you can also check if you want to get some more ideas of how to make something like this work for you.
1. Inbox Zero
I start by collecting all of the stuff that I have to do or sort through from different places and bringing them together so I can figure out what to do with everything. That’s usually my email inbox, my physical inbox that sits on my desk or wherever I keep my mail at home, and the inbox folder I’ve set up as part of my to-do system, which functions as the initial dumping ground for any new tasks that are assigned to me.
As I go through each inbox, I look at each item and figure out what, if anything, I need to do with it. There are essentially five things I can choose:
- Do. If it’s an action that I need to take, I create a new task for it in my task management system / to-do list. (If I can do it in 2 minutes or less, I just do it right away.)
- Delegate. If it’s for someone else, I send it off to them (and, if necessary, make a reminder for myself to follow up with them at an appropriate time).
- Defer. If I don’t have to do it right away, it gets filed away into a “deferred” system (some people call this a “bring forward” file) so that it’ll pop up when I’m ready to deal with it.
- File. (Yeah, I know, doesn’t start with “D”.) This is for if there’s no action but it needs to be saved for reference.
- Delete. Pretty self explanatory. Also my favourite. :)
Essentially, the idea is to go through everything until I know that everything that I could possibly do next week has been collected and is actually in front of me, instead of stashed in some corner of my brain/email system/office/apartment/what have you.
2. Review calendar(s) for the next 30 days
At work, this means my personal calendar and our corporate calendar. I check to see if there’s anything on the corporate calendar that I need to contribute to or follow up on. In my personal calendar, I think about whether I’ll need to do any prep for any upcoming meetings or events during the next week.
At home, this means my personal calendar and my editorial calendar for this blog, but the idea is the same. Basically, this is just about making sure there’s nothing I’ve missed in my “collecting all of the things that I could possibly be doing next week” process, and trying to avoid unpleasant last-minute surprises and deadlines. You could do longer than 30 days if you felt like you needed to look further out, but I find that this time-frame usually works for me.
3. Review all projects
Projects are the bigger, multi-step tasks that I’ve got going on at any given time. “Get groceries” is a task, because it involves only one action. “Plan my sister’s birthday party” is a project, because it involves multiple steps like picking a date, making a guest list, sending invitations, ordering cake, etc.
Reviewing projects helps me to check in on all of the bigger stuff I’ve got going on to make sure it’s all on schedule and up to date. If I have to add something, I add it; if I already finished something, I check it off. Even if I don’t actually have to do anything with it in the next seven days (maybe the next step in my “Plan my sister’s birthday party” is to pick up the birthday cake in three weeks), the idea is to just check in on it and give myself the peace of mind that, yes, I’ve gone through everything and I know that I’m not missing anything.
4. Review Forecast for the next 7 days
“Forecast” is a feature built into OmniFocus, the task management program I use, but really you could apply this to every system, even if all you’re using is lined paper and a twelve-month calendar. The idea is to take a hard look at the next week and get a sense of how much time I actually have available to get stuff done. If I have back-to-back meetings for three days next week, that really limits how much I’ll be able to do, and I’ll plan accordingly.
It’s also a good time to start thinking about any hard deadlines: If I know that I have to finish a presentation by Wednesday, I’m going to plan to start my week off with that rather than putting it off in favour of something that isn’t as urgent. Similarly, knowing that I post to the blog every Wednesday means that I know I’ll be spending Tuesday evening finalizing my post rather than watching the latest episode of MARVEL’s Agents of Shield (although let’s be honest, ideally it will involve both).
5. Review Vision / Mission Statement / Goals
This step is all about making sure that I’m choosing to focus my efforts on the things that ultimately matter. Reminding myself of my big-picture priorities is really helpful when I’m making decisions about what I’m actually going to focus on next week.
At work, that means taking a look at our mission statement and my annual objectives and deliverables. At home, this means looking at my personal vision statement (yes, I really do have one, and yes, it really does help). The same goes for goals: reviewing them and identifying small steps that I can take over the next seven days is the best way to little by little achieving the things I’ve identified as important to me.
6. Identify key tasks and priorities for next week
It’s here, the moment of truth! Having gone through everything — my inbox, my calendar, my existing list of things to do — and having reminded myself of my big-picture goals and priorities, I’m ready to make some good, informed decisions about what to focus on next week. There are usually between seven and ten specific action items — much more than that and it gets overwhelming. At home, I break them down into three key areas: Goal stuff, Cursor & Ink stuff, and House/Personal stuff. At work, I don’t bother breaking it down; I just make a list. If there are any deadlines or specific times I want to work on each task, I note them in my calendar for that particular day.
Once I’ve identified the things I’m choosing to focus on next week , I try to pick three priorities that I absolutely need to get done — although I’m more diligent about this with my work review than at home. Those priorities are the things that I try to get done first, followed by the rest.
7. Tidy desk and do any final planning
At work, tidying and wiping down my desk is the last thing I do, just because it’s gratifying to leave for the weekend with a clean office and a clear plan of action for the next week.
At home, this also is the point where I do my meal planning and grocery list-making for the next week. Now that I know what I have on tap for the next seven days, it’s the perfect time to figure out when I’ll have time to cook a meal, when I should plan to eat leftovers, or when I won’t need dinner or lunch at all.
Making It Your Own
This is the system that I’ve found works well for me, but as with all things when it comes to productivity, you’ve got to find a way to make it your own. Hopefully this will give you some good ideas as to how to start… but I encourage you to just try it for yourself — and if it doesn’t work, tweak it until it does!